By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Here’s what I feel good about,” Donna says. “That all of our efforts have prevented 84,000 tons of air pollution being pumped into this area, and we have prevented 40 million gallons of garbage juice from polluting the ground water — and that’s a statistic I got from the EIR, 40 million gallons of toxic brew. And so far, we’ve stopped it.”
But one early morning last winter, Larry Charpied was up processing jojoba seeds when he heard the “ding-ding” of a truck backing up not too far away. When he went outside to look, he spotted men on his property putting up survey markers. He politely chased them off, asking them to “have your boss call me.” The next day, they came back. This time he wasn’t so nice. “I told them get out now or I’m calling the sheriff.” The next day, they were back. Larry called the sheriff. And this was how Larry and Donna Charpied learned that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was considering the area for a water-storage project several times the size of a similar facility 10 miles west at Hayfield.
The MWD refers to the Upper Chuckwalla Valley Storage Project as “a feasibility study to determine the potential to store surplus Colorado River Aqueduct (CRA) water during normal or wet years and return it to the CRA for delivery to Southern California during dry years,” and says the plan is part of an effort to hold California to its basic entitlement of 4.4 million acre-feet per year from the Colorado River. But the Charpieds claim that it’s much more, that the MWD actually plans to pump the Pinto Basin’s underground water supply into the Colorado River Aqueduct and replace it with Colorado River water, which will be poured over 7,000 acres of desert to sink back into the aquifer. It is, says Donna, the MWD’s answer to perchlorate contamination in Los Angeles drinking water. “They told us to our face their mandate is to get new water sources,” she says. “But it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to pollute our water so there can be uncontrolled growth.”
Perchlorate, a byproduct of rocket fuel, affects thyroid function in humans and interferes with reproduction. “And if it does that to humans,” Larry asks, “what kind of effect will it have on reptiles? On bighorn sheep? They’re going to take our clean water so Los Angeles can drink it and put back the dirty stuff, stir up the arsenic in the soil and poison the wildlife. And if the water level drops in the Pinto Basin below the roots of our native desert plants, it’s gone, and they’re gone. And it’s irreversible.
“I’m telling you,” he warns. “It’s the Owens River Valley all over again.”
Donna makes the point in her own way. “Joni Mitchell was out here having dinner at the Twentynine Palms Inn last week,” she tells me. “And ever since then I’ve been singing, ‘They paved paradise to put up a garbage dump!’ Because that’s never been more true anywhere than it is here right now: You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I just hope we never find that out.”